James Demer & The DemerBox
by Richard Lightstone CAS AMPS
You are probably asking yourself, “What is a DemerBox?” I didn’t know either until someone (I forgot who) told me about this outstanding portable speaker built into a small Pelican case. I bought one in May of 2012 for a feature I was about to start. It sounded great, had long battery life, you could send audio to it directly via a cable or Bluetooth and if an actor stomped on it in the wheel well of a picture vehicle, it was virtually indestructible. Oh, and once you put the bass-port plug in—it’s waterproof too.
My DemerBox is still going strong almost eight years later. I have been following its creator, James Demer, and we finally met in September 2014 at the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, Maine. At that time, James was living in Portland and I asked him to speak to my class on Sound Mixing. James made his living as a busy Reality, Documentary, News, and Feature mixer.
James was always a tinkerer. “I built my first speaker out of a shoebox when I was twelve, and never lost the passion. I was buying audio amplifier boards and putting them together with wood enclosures for speakers. One day, I took a Pelican 1300 case, cut some holes in it, and slapped a pair of Fostex three-inch drivers and tuned it up with a port and it sounded really good. A lot of my crewmember friends on the feature film I was on, Winter’s Bone, asked, ‘Oh, that’s awesome, can you make one for me?’ Being a bit of an entrepreneur, I thought what a great side hustle.”
James worked eleven seasons on Survivor and the crewmembers would buy DemerBoxes. “They’d use them hard and break them, and then tell me what to fix. Then I’d come back with a new and improved model.”
James explains, “We launched a Kickstarter in the fall of 2014, and fulfilled the orders in the spring of 2015. Kickstarter allowed us the ability to open some injection molds, which we had made in the US. We went from thermoforming our own cards with a homemade vacuum machine and a heat lamp to having real injection molded parts to hold the speakers, the circuit board, and the battery inside the box.
James teamed up with Jayson Lobozzo, a cameraman, where they figured out the port plug addition that allows a user to put a plug in the porthole; you lose a little bass, but it’s fully waterproof. The Kickstarter also allowed a new design where everything is incorporated in the lid and the electronics are all protected. From an assembly standpoint, it’s a lot easier to manufacture by attaching the lid to the case.
James continues, “We started manufacturing in Portland, Maine, which is where I’m from. It started in my basement and then I rented a workshop in downtown Portland. Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band had purchased a DemerBox late in 2016, and he sent me an email and asked, ‘Hey, this thing’s awesome. What are you guys doing? Why don’t you come down to Georgia, I’ll put some money into the operation and we’ll see what we can do.’”
James moved in July 2017 to Peachtree City, Georgia, outside of Atlanta, and set up shop. “Sales are very good, we grew sixteen hundred percent in 2018; it was pretty crazy. We had one order alone for four thousand units. Because we manufacture everything in the United States, we’re very hands on with our product, we can customize for corporate clients. That four thousand unit order was for Jimmy John’s Sandwich Shop’s annual convention where they gave a DemerBox to each one of their store owners and managers.”
James posits, “We’re partners with Zac Brown and Troy Link, an investor in DemerBox, who owns Jack Link’s, a beef jerky company. Jack Link’s is the largest packaged meats company in the world. They do $1.2 billion in revenue annually. So, between Zac’s celebrity and his connections and Troy Link’s guidance, I feel like we’ve hit the jackpot down here in Georgia.”
When it came time to find a new injection molding company, they were able to find one a little bit closer to home from the one they used in Minnesota. There were four or five to choose from in Georgia.
James explains, “We found one that’s just up the road and get exceptional service. You just can’t find that in Maine. The population’s too small.”
DemerBox just did a three hundred unit giveaway with the USO with their branded logo on it. The USO is America’s oldest military nonprofit that gives back to the servicemen and women. The DemerBoxes are for those who are deployed overseas who needed a speaker that they can’t break.
The product has a Class D amplifier chip rated at twenty watts per channel made by Maxim. It’s limited closer to ten watts per channel so to not blow the speakers. It’s been measured at 96DB output at three feet.
James continues, “You can fill a small room. We have updated the DemerBox, calling it the DB2, with two speakers and we’ve revamped the circuit board and the switches with a battery indicator, so now you know when your battery’s getting low. You can pair multiple boxes via Bluetooth. We’ve added digital signal processing (DSP) so we have better high frequencies.”
They are about to launch a redesign of the original mono DemerBox, the DB1. It’s rated at eighty percent of the volume of the larger DB2 even though it’s half the size. The DemerBox has multiple uses, for example at Video Village, if everyone doesn’t want to be on headsets or in the client van, they can listen to the audio that’s being transmitted from the picture vehicle.
James says, “The easy way is to make our product in China. There’s a reason that no other portable speaker manufacturer is making their product in the United States. It’s a commitment, but it’s something that both Zac and I share, and we’re employing Americans who are working hard, and are skilled, and really care about our brand.”
The company is so successful that James Demer has given up sound mixing doing this full time and is home for his wife and older daughter.
James concludes, “It’s definitely nice to not live out of a suitcase.”